Child DNA samples are ‘assault’

By Ian Dunt

Police taking samples of children’s DNA without written consent are legally committing assault, according to the government’s own ethics group.

The National DNA Database Ethics Group, appointed by the home secretary and chaired by Professor Peter Hutton, has launched a robust attack on many facets of the DNA programme.

The group is highly critical of the way that changes to the database took place through back-door parliamentary regulations.

There was also substantial criticism of the database’s ability to account for ethnicity, with the group describing the current state of the system as not fit for purpose.

“While this situation has arisen from historical reasons without any discriminatory intent, it is unacceptable and needs urgent attention.

“It is now apparent that the quality of the data on ethnic appearance etc on the NDNAD [National DNA Database] is not fit for the purposes of accurate analysis and its continued retention on the NDNAD must fall into question.”

The database contains details of 37 per cent of black men but only ten per cent of white men.

The group also called for a consent form to be devised for voluntary samples to be taken from 12 to 16-year-olds.

While there is no ethical guidance on the taking of a child’s DNA, the current method of taking it could be construed as coercion or assault, the group found.

It also contravenes the rights in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and possibly the principles of the Children Act 1989, the group aserted.

The annual report also included substantial criticism of the way the government responded to a European Court of Human Rights ruling which said keeping the DNA of innocent people was illegal.

The Home Office response allows for innocent people’s DNA to be kept for 12 years. The change will be pushed through using secondary legislation, a move the group criticised.